Tech sweeps NC State in massive ACC upset

Freshman infielder Carson Kerce faces off against the NC State Wolfpack in the game’s opening series. His bat was crucial in Tech taking the first game against the Wolfpack by a score of 8-5 // Photo courtesy of Henry Knox Student Publications

The Jackets baseball team did not get the memo that it is spring break at Tech. Over their last few games, the Jackets have gone through a dizzying series of highs and lows. From dominating performances against Mercer, Georgia State and North Carolina State (NC State) to a challenging series against the University of North Carolina (UNC), “varied” would be an understatement of their performance.

On March 12, Tech traveled to Macon to face off against the Mercer Bears. Redshirt sophomore right-hander Carson Ballard delivered an exceptional performance that helped carry the Jackets to victory in this mid-week match-up. Ballard’s seven  scoreless innings, allowing only four hits, marked his career-best performance. Offensively, senior outfielder Bobby Zmarzlak and senior first baseman Cam Jones led the charge, with Zmarzlak going three-for-three with a homerun and Jones collecting three hits and a double. Jones then sealed the Bears’ fate with a clutch performance  on the mound which secured the 9-5 Tech win.

As Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC) play commenced on March 15, Tech carried its momentum from a five-game win streak into the series against NC State. The opening game on March 15 saw the Jackets secure an 8-5 victory, attributed to solid pitching by junior right-hander Mason Patel and freshman right-hander Tate McKee, alongside timely hitting from freshman third-baseman Carson Kerce, freshman center fielder Drew Burress and junior shortstop Payton Green. The team’s situational hitting and power at the plate were evident, with three home runs contributing to the win. 

The series continued with a nail-biting 8-7 win on March 16, courtesy of a dramatic three-run homer by Zmarzlak. The team’s resilience shone through as they overturned a two-run deficit in the eighth inning, as senior right-hander Brett Thomas effectively closed out the game for the Jackets.

The sweep against No. 13 NC State was completed on March 17 with a decisive 15-5 victory, showcasing Tech’s offensive firepower. Leadoff hitter senior infielder Trey Yunger’s two homers and senior catcher Matthew Ellis’s mammoth two-run homer highlighted a team firing on all cylinders, comfortably enforcing the ACC’s run-rule against the Wolfpack. 

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Dominic Fritton took the loss for the Wolfpack as he allowed five runs on six hits in two and two-thirds innings of work. On March 19, Tech extended their winning streak to nine games with a 6-4 victory over Georgia State. Late-game heroics from Yunger and Ellis turned a one-run deficit into a two-run lead in the ninth to pick up the victory for the Jackets. Aside from a four-run hiccup in the fourth inning, the Jackets’ pitching staff was able to deliver eight innings of scoreless baseball, showcasing the depth and resilience of the bullpen in a mid-week game where the team’s best pitchers are not available for long stints. The series against UNC that started on March 22 proved challenging for the Jackets. The opening game on March 22 was a narrow 5-4 loss, with the team falling just short of a miraculous ninth-inning comeback. Despite this setback, the team’s fighting spirit was evident, particularly highlighted in multi-hit performances of Kerce and Yunger.

On March 23, the Jackets looked to bounce back but encountered a roller-coaster of a game that ultimately ended in an 11-5 loss. Tech initially seized  a 5-4 lead through timely hits and a pivotal two-out line drive by Yunger that momentarily tipped the scales in their favor.

However, the latter part of the game saw UNC unleash a barrage of runs, tallying seven unanswered runs that overwhelmed Tech’s defense. The Jackets’ pitching, which had shown promise in earlier innings, found it challenging to stem the tide, with UNC’s junior centerfielder Vance Honeycutt delivering a particularly stinging blow with a three-RBI night to boot.

The series concluded on March 24 with Tech looking to salvage a win but ultimately falling 9-2. The Jackets clearly lost this game at the plate, struggling all game to convert opportunities into runs. Despite managing five hits, the Jackets mustered a single at-bat with a runner in scoring position, highlighting an area for future focus. They will be looking to improve at the plate in their game against Boston College on Thursday, March 26 at home in MacNease Park.